This article is about political and social developments, and the origins and aftermath of the war. For military actions, see American Revolutionary War. For other uses, see American Revolution (disambiguation).
In this article, inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies who supported the American Revolution are primarily referred to as "Americans" or "Patriots," and sometimes as "Whigs," "Rebels" or "Revolutionaries." Colonists who supported the British side are called "Loyalists" or "Tories". In accordance with the policy of this encyclopedia, this article uses American English terminology; in British English these events are known as the "American War of Independence".
John Trumbull's Declaration of Independence, showing theCommittee of Five presenting its work to Congress
The American Revolution was a political upheaval that took place between 1765 and 1783 during which colonists in the Thirteen American Colonies rejected the British monarchy and aristocracy, overthrew the authority of Great Britain, and founded the United States of America.
Starting in 1765, members of American colonial society rejected the authority ofthe British Parliament to tax them without colonial representatives in the government. During the following decade, protests by colonists—known as Patriots—continued to escalate, as in the Boston Tea Party in 1773 during which patriots destroyed a consignment of taxed tea from the Parliament-controlled and favored East India Company. The British responded by imposing punitive laws—the Coercive Acts—on Massachusetts in 1774, following which Patriots in the other colonies rallied behind Massachusetts. In late 1774 the Patriots set up their own alternative government to better coordinate their resistance efforts against Great Britain, while other colonists, known as Loyalists, preferred to remain aligned to the British Crown.
Tensions escalated to the outbreak of fighting between Patriot militia and British regulars at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. The conflict then evolved into a global war, during which the Patriots (and later their French, Spanish, and Dutch allies) fought the British and Loyalists in what became known as the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Patriots in each of the thirteen colonies formed aProvincial Congress that assumed power from the old colonial governments and suppressed Loyalism, and from there built a Continental Army under the leadership of General George Washington. Claiming King George III's rule to be tyrannical and infringing the colonists' "rights as Englishmen", the Continental Congress declared the colonies free and independent states in July 1776. The Patriot leadership professed the political philosophies of liberalism and republicanism to reject monarchy andaristocracy, and proclaimed that all men are created equal. Congress rejected British proposals requiring allegiance to the monarchy and abandonment of independence.
The British were forced out of Boston in 1776, but then captured and held New York City for the duration of the war. The British blockaded the ports and captured other cities for brief periods, but failed to defeat Washington's forces. In early 1778, following a failed patriot invasion of Canada, a British army was captured at the Battle of Saratoga, following which the French openly entered the war as allies of the United States. The war later turned to the American South, where the British captured an army at South Carolina, but failed to enlist enough volunteers from Loyalist civilians to take effective control. A combined American–French force captured a second British army at Yorktown in 1781, effectively ending the war in the United States. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 formally ended the conflict, confirming the new nation's complete separation from the British Empire. The United States took possession of nearly all the territory east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes, with the British retaining control of Canada and Spain taking Florida.
Among the significant results of the revolution was the creation of a new Constitution of the United States. The 'Three-Fifths Compromise' allowed the southern slaveholders to consolidate power and maintain slavery in America for another eighty years, but through the expansion of voting rights and liberties over subsequent decades the elected government became responsible to the will of the people. The new Constitution established a relatively strong federal national government that included an executive, national judiciary, a bicameral Congress that represented both states in theSenate and population in the House of Representatives.
1Origins1.11764–1766: Taxes imposed and withdrawn
1.21767–1773: Townshend Acts and the Tea Act
1.31774–1775: Intolerable Acts and the Quebec Act
2Creating new state constitutions
3Military hostilities begin3.1Prisoners
4Independence and Union
5Defending the Revolution5.1British return: 1776–1777
5.2American alliances after 1778
5.3The British move South, 1778–17835.3.1Surrender at Yorktown (1781)
5.4The end of the war
6Peace treaty6.1Impact on Britain
8Concluding the Revolution8.1Creating a "more perfect union" and guaranteeing rights
9Ideology and factions9.1Ideology behind the Revolution9.1.1Natural rights and republicanism188.8.131.52Fusing republicanism and liberalism
9.1.2Impact of Great Awakening
9.2Class and psychology of the factions
9.3King George III
9.7Role of women
11Effects of the Revolution11.1Loyalist expatriation
11.3Inspiring all colonies
11.4Status of American women
11.5Status of African Americans
15.2Surveys of the era
15.6Contemporary sources: Annual Register
Eastern North America in 1775. The British Province of Quebec, the Thirteen Colonies on the Atlantic coast and theIndian Reserve as defined by the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The 1763 "Proclamation line" comprises the border between the red and the pink areas, while the orange area represents the Spanish claim.
Historians typically begin their histories of the American Revolution with the British victory in the French and Indian War in 1763, which removed France as a major player in North American affairs.Lawrence Henry Gipson, the historian of the British Empire, states:
It may be said as truly that the American Revolution was an aftermath of the Anglo-French conflict in the New World carried on between 1754 and 1763.
For the prior history see Thirteen Colonies.
1764–1766: Taxes imposed and withdrawn
Main articles: Sugar Act, Currency Act, Quartering Acts, Stamp Act 1765and Declaratory Act
Further information: No taxation without representation and Virtual representation
Notice of Stamp Act of 1765 in newspaper
In 1764 Parliament passed the Currency Act to restrain the use of paper money that British merchants saw as a means to evade debt payments.[original research?]Parliament also passed the Sugar Act imposing customsduties on a number of articles. That same year Prime MinisterGeorge Grenville proposed to impose direct taxes on the colonies to raise revenue, but delayed action to see if the colonies would propose some way to raise the revenue themselves. None did, and in March 1765 Parliament passed the Stamp Act which imposed direct taxes on the colonies for the first time. All official documents, newspapers, almanacs and pamphlets—even decks of playing cards—were required to have the stamps.
The colonists objected chiefly on the grounds not that the taxes were high (they were low), but because they had no representation in the Parliament. Benjamin Franklin testified in Parliament in 1766 that Americans already contributed heavily to the defense of the Empire. He said local governments had raised, outfitted and paid 25,000 soldiers to fight France—as many as Britain itself sent—and spent many millions from American treasuries doing so in the French and Indian Waralone. Stationing a standing army in Great Britain during peacetime was politically unacceptable. London had to deal with 1,500 politically well-connected British officers who became redundant; it would have to discharge them or station them in North America.
In 1765 the Sons of Liberty formed. They used public demonstrations, boycott, violence and threats of violence to ensure that the British tax laws were unenforceable. While openly hostile to what they considered an oppressive Parliament acting illegally, colonists persisted in sending numerous petitions and pleas for intervention from a monarch to whom they still claimed loyalty. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty burned the records of the vice admiralty court and looted the home of the chief justice,Thomas Hutchinson. Several legislatures called for united action, and nine colonies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City in October 1765. Moderates led by John Dickinson drew up a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances" stating that taxes passed without representation violated their rights as Englishmen. Colonists emphasized their determination by boycotting imports of British merchandise.
The Parliament at Westminster saw itself as the supreme lawmaking authority throughout all British possessions and thus entitled to levy any tax without colonial approval. They argued that the colonies were legally British corporations that were completely subordinate to the British parliament and pointed to numerous instances where Parliament had made laws binding on the colonies in the past. They did not see anything in the unwritten British constitution that made taxes special and noted that Parliament had taxed American trade for decades. Parliament insisted that the colonies effectively enjoyed a "virtual representation" like most British people did, as only a small minority of the British population elected representatives to Parliament. Americans such as James Otis maintained the Americans were not in fact virtually represented.
In London, the Rockingham government came to power (July 1765) and Parliament debated whether to repeal the stamp tax or to send an army to enforce it. Benjamin Franklin made the case for repeal, explaining the colonies had spent heavily in manpower, money, and blood in defense of the empire in a series of wars against the French and Indians, and that further taxes to pay for those wars were unjust and might bring about a rebellion. Parliament agreed and repealed the tax (February 21, 1766), but in the Declaratory Act of March 1766 insisted that parliament retained full power to make laws for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever". The repeal nonetheless caused widespread celebrations in the colonies.
Briggs says unnamed modern American economic historians have challenged the view that Great Britain was placing a heavy burden on the North American colonies and have suggested the cost of defending them from the possibility of invasion by France or Spain was £400,000 – five times the maximum income from them. Briggs rejects the analysis, saying that issue was not invoked at the time.
1767–1773: Townshend Acts and the Tea Act
Main articles: Townshend Acts and Tea Act
Further information: Massachusetts Circular Letter, Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party
Burning of the Gaspee
In 1767 the Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which placed duties on a number of essential goods including paper, glass, and tea and established a Board of Customs in Boston to more rigorously execute trade regulations. The new taxes were enacted on the belief that Americans only objected to internal taxes and not external taxes like custom duties. The Americans, however, argued against the constitutionality of the act because its purpose was to raise revenue and not regulate trade. Colonists responded by organizing new boycotts of British goods. These boycotts were less effective, however, as the Townshend goods were widely used.
In February 1768 the Assembly of Massachusetts Bay issued a circular letter to the other colonies urging them to coordinate resistance. The governor dissolved the assembly when it refused to rescind the letter. Meanwhile, in June 1768 a riot broke out in Boston over the seizure of the sloop Liberty, owned by John Hancock, for alleged smuggling. Custom officials were forced to flee, prompting the British to deploy troops to Boston. A Boston town meeting declared no obedience was due to parliamentary laws and called for the convening of a convention. A convention assembled but only issued a mild protest before dissolving itself. In January 1769 Parliament responded to the unrest by reactivating the Treason Act 1543 which permitted subjects outside the realm to face trials for treason in England. The governor of Massachusetts was instructed to collect evidence of said treason, and although the threat was not carried out it caused widespread outrage.
On March 5, 1770 a large mob gathered around a group of British soldiers. The mob grew more and more threatening, throwing snowballs, rocks and debris at the soldiers. One soldier was clubbed and fell. There was no order to fire but the soldiers fired into the crowd anyway. They hit 11 people; three civilians died at the scene of the shooting, and two died after the incident. The event quickly came to be called the Boston Massacre. Although the soldiers were tried and acquitted (defended byJohn Adams), the widespread descriptions soon became propaganda to turn colonial sentiment against the British. This in turn began a downward spiral in the relationship between Britain and the Province of Massachusetts.
A new ministry under Lord North came to power in 1770 and Parliament withdrew all taxes except the tax on tea, giving up its efforts to raise revenue while maintaining the right to tax. This temporarily resolved the crisis and the boycott of British goods largely ceased, with only the more radical patriots such as Samuel Adams continuing to agitate.
This 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currierwas entitled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party" had not yet become standard.
In June 1772, in what became known as the GaspeeAffair, American patriots including John Brown burned a British warship that had been vigorously enforcing unpopular trade regulations. The affair was investigated for possible treason, but no action was taken.
In 1772 it became known that the Crown intended to pay fixed salaries to the governors and judges in Massachusetts. Samuel Adams in Boston set about creating new Committees of Correspondence, which linked Patriots in all 13 colonies and eventually provided the framework for a rebel government. In early 1773 Virginia, the largest colony, set up its Committee of Correspondence, on which Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson served.
A total of about 7000 to 8000 Patriots served on "Committees of Correspondence" at the colonial and local levels, comprising most of the leadership in their communities — Loyalists were excluded. The committees became the leaders of the American resistance to British actions, and largely determined the war effort at the state and local level. When the First Continental Congress decided to boycott British products, the colonial and local Committees took charge, examining merchant records and publishing the names of merchants who attempted to defy the boycott by importing British goods.
In 1773 private letters were published where Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson claimed the colonists could not enjoy all English liberties, and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver called for the direct payment of colonial officials. The letters, whose contents were used as evidence of a systematic plot against American rights, discredited Hutchinson in the eyes of the people the Assembly petitioned for his recall. Benjamin Franklin, post-master general for the colonies, acknowledged that he leaked the letters which led to him being berated by British officials and fired from his job.
Meanwhile, Parliament passed the Tea Act to lower the price of taxed tea exported to the colonies in order to help the East India Company undersell smuggled Dutch tea. Special consignees were appointed to sell the tea in order to bypass colonial merchants. The act was opposed not only by those who resisted the taxes but also by smugglers who stood to lose business. In most instances the consignees were forced to resign and the tea was turned back, but Massachusetts governor Hutchinson refused to allow Boston merchants to give into pressure. A town meeting in Boston determined that the tea would not be landed, and ignored a demand from the governor to disperse. On December 16, 1773 a group of men, led by Samuel Adams and dressed to evoke American Indians, boarded the ships of the British East India Company and dumped £10,000 worth of tea from their holds (approximately £636,000 in 2008) into Boston Harbor. Decades later this event became known as the Boston Tea Party and remains a significant part of American patriotic lore.
1774–1775: Intolerable Acts and the Quebec Act
A 1774 etching from The London Magazine, copied by Paul Revere of Boston.Prime Minister Lord North, author of theBoston Port Act, forces the Intolerable Actsdown the throat of America, whose arms are restrained by Lord Chief Justice Mansfieldwhile Lord Sandwich pins down her feet and peers up her robes. Behind them, Mother Britannia weeps helplessly.
Main articles: Quebec Act and Intolerable Acts
The British government responded by passing several Acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which further darkened colonial opinion towards the British. They consisted of four laws enacted by the British parliament. The first, the Massachusetts Government Act, altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings. The second Act, the Administration of Justice Act, ordered that all British soldiers to be tried were to be arraigned in Britain, not in the colonies. The third Act was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party. The fourth Act was theQuartering Act of 1774, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner.
In response, Massachusetts patriots issued the Suffolk Resolves and formed an alternative shadow government known as the "Provincial Congress" which began training militia outside British-occupied Boston. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress convened, consisting of representatives from each of the colonies, to serve as a vehicle for deliberation and collective action. During secret debates conservative Joseph Galloway proposed the creation of a colonial Parliament that would be able to approve or disapprove of acts of the British Parliament but his idea was not accepted. The Congress instead endorsed the proposal of John Adams that Americans would obey Parliament voluntarily but would resist all taxes in disguise. Congress called for a boycott beginning on 1 December 1774 of all British goods; it was enforced by new committees authorized by the Congress.
The Quebec Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries to the Ohio River, shutting out the claims of the 13 colonies. By then, however, the Americans had little regard for new laws from London; they were drilling militia and organizing for war.
The British retaliated by confining all trade of the New England colonies to Britain and excluding them from the Newfoundland fisheries. Lord North advanced a compromise proposal in which Parliament would not tax so long as the colonies made fixed contributions for defense and to support civil government. This would also be rejected.
Creating new state constitutions
Following the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, the Patriots had control of Massachusetts outside the Boston city limits; the Loyalists suddenly found themselves on the defensive with no protection from the British army. In all 13 colonies, Patriots had overthrown their existing governments, closing courts and driving British officials away. They had elected conventions and "legislatures" that existed outside any legal framework; new constitutions were drawn up in each state to supersede royal charters. They declared that they were states now, not colonies.
On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire ratified the first state constitution. In May 1776, Congress voted to suppress all forms of crown authority, to be replaced by locally created authority. Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey created their constitutions before July 4. Rhode Island and Connecticutsimply took their existing royal charters and deleted all references to the crown. The new states were all committed to republicanism, with no inherited offices. They decided not only what form of government to create, and also how to select those who would craft the constitutions and how the resulting document would be ratified. But there would be no universal suffrage and real power, including the right to elect the future President would still lay in the hands of a few selected elites for many years. On 26 May 1776 John Adams wrote James Sullivan from Philadelphia;
"Depend upon it, sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation, as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters. There will be no end of it. New claims will arise. Women will demand a vote. Lads from twelve to twenty one will think their rights not enough attended to, and every man, who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks, to one common level".
In states where the wealthy exerted firm control over the process, such as Maryland, Virginia,Delaware, New York and Massachusetts – the last-mentioned of these state's constitutions still being in force in the 21st century, continuously since its ratification on June 15, 1780 – the results were constitutions that featured:
Substantial property qualifications for voting and even more substantial requirements for elected positions (though New York and Maryland lowered property qualifications);
Bicameral legislatures, with the upper house as a check on the lower;
Strong governors, with veto power over the legislature and substantial appointment authority;
Few or no restraints on individuals holding multiple positions in government;
The continuation of state-established religion.
Benjamin Rush, 1783
In states where the less affluent had organized sufficiently to have significant power—especially Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New Hampshire—the resulting constitutions embodied
universal white manhood suffrage, or minimal property requirements for voting or holding office (New Jersey enfranchised some property owning widows, a step that it retracted 25 years later);
strong, unicameral legislatures;
relatively weak governors, without veto powers, and little appointing authority;
prohibition against individuals holding multiple government posts;
The radical provisions of Pennsylvania's constitution lasted only 14 years. In 1790, conservatives gained power in the state legislature, called a new constitutional convention, and rewrote the constitution. The new constitution substantially reduced universal white-male suffrage, gave the governor veto power and patronage appointment authority, and added an upper house with substantial wealth qualifications to the unicameral legislature. Thomas Paine called it a constitution unworthy of America.
Military hostilities begin
Join, or Die by Benjamin Franklin was recycled to encourage the former colonies to unite against British rule.
Further information: Shot heard 'round the world,Boston campaign, Invasion of Canada (1775) andAmerican Revolutionary War
Massachusetts was declared in a state of rebellion in February 1775 and the British garrison received orders to disarm the rebels and arrest their leaders, leading to theBattles of Lexington and Concord on 19 April 1775. The Patriots set siege to Boston, expelled royal officials from all the colonies, and took control through the establishment of Provincial Congresses. The Battle of Bunker Hill followed on June 17, 1775. While a British victory, it was at a great cost; about 1,000 British casualties from a garrison of about 6,000, as compared to 500 American casualties from a much larger force. First ostensibly loyal to the king and desiring to govern themselves while remaining in the empire, the repeated pleas by the First Continental Congress for royal intervention on their behalf with Parliament resulted in the declaration by the King that the states were "in rebellion", and the members of Congress were traitors.
In the winter of 1775, the Americans invaded Canada. General Richard Montgomery capturedMontreal but a joint attack on Quebec was a total failure; many Americans were captured or died of smallpox.
In March 1776, with George Washington as the commander of the new army, the Continental Army forced the British to evacuate Boston. The revolutionaries were now in full control of all 13 colonies and were ready to declare independence. While there still were many Loyalists, they were no longer in control anywhere by July 1776, and all of the Royal officials had fled.
Main article: Prisoners of war in the American Revolutionary War
In August 1775, George III declared Americans in arms against royal authority to be traitors to the Crown. Following their surrender at the Battles of Saratoga in October 1777, there were thousands of British and Hessian soldiers in American hands. Although Lord Germain took a hard line, the British generals on the scene never held treason trials; they treated captured enemy soldiers as prisoners of war. The dilemma was that tens of thousands of Loyalists were under American control and American retaliation would have been easy. The British built much of their strategy around using these Loyalists. Therefore, no Americans were put on trial for treason. The British maltreated the prisoners they held, resulting in more deaths to American sailors and soldiers than from combat operations. At the end of the war, both sides released their surviving prisoners.
Independence and Union
Johannes Adam Simon Oertel. Pulling Down the Statue of King George III, N.Y.C., ca. 1859. The painting is a romanticizedversion of the Sons of Liberty destroying the symbol of monarchy following the reading of the United States Declaration of Independence to the Continental Army and residents on the New York City commons by George Washington, July 9th, 1776.
Further information: Lee Resolution, Articles of Confederation, Committee of Five and United States Declaration of Independence
In April 1776 the North Carolina Provincial Congressissued the Halifax Resolves, explicitly authorizing its delegates to vote for independence. In May Congress called on all the states to write constitutions, and eliminate the last remnants of royal rule.
By June nine colonies were ready for independence; one by one the last four—Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York—fell into line. Richard Henry Lee was instructed by the Virginia legislature to propose independence, and he did so on June 7, 1776. On the 11th a committee was created to draft a document explaining the justifications for separation from Britain. After securing enough votes for passage, independence was voted for on July 2. The Declaration of Independence, drafted largely by Thomas Jefferson and presented by the committee, was slightly revised and unanimously adopted by the entire Congress on July 4, marking the formation of a new sovereign nation, which called itself the United States of America.
The Second Continental Congress approved a new constitution, the "Articles of Confederation," for ratification by the states on November 15, 1777, and immediately began operating under their terms. The Articles were formally ratified on March 1, 1781. At that point, the Continental Congress was dissolved and on the following day a new government of the United States in Congress Assembledtook its place, with Samuel Huntington as presiding officer.
Defending the Revolution
Main article: American Revolutionary War
British return: 1776–1777
Further information: New York and New Jersey campaign, Staten Island Peace Conference,Saratoga campaign and Philadelphia campaign
According to British historian Jeremy Black, the British had significant advantages including a highly trained army, the world's largest navy and a highly efficient system of public finance that could easily fund the war. However, the British were seriously handicapped by their misunderstanding of the depth of support for the Patriot position. Ignoring the advice of General Gage, they misinterpreted the situation as merely a large-scale riot. London decided that by sending a large military and naval force they could overawe the Americans and force them to be loyal again:
Convinced that the Revolution was the work of a full few miscreants who had rallied an armed rabble to their cause, they expected that the revolutionaries would be intimidated…. Then the vast majority of Americans, who were loyal but cowed by the terroristic tactics… would rise up, kick out the rebels, and restore loyal government in each colony.
After Washington forced the British out of Boston in the spring of 1776, neither the British nor the Loyalists controlled any significant areas. The British, however, were massing forces at their naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. They returned in force in July 1776, landing in New York and defeating Washington's Continental Army at the Battle of Brooklyn in August. After winning the Battle of Brooklyn, the British requested a meeting with representatives from Congress to negotiate an end to hostilities.
A delegation including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin met Howe on Staten Island in New York Harbor on September 11, in what became known as the Staten Island Peace Conference. Howe demanded a retraction of the Declaration of Independence, which was refused, and negotiations ended. The British then quickly seized New York City and nearly captured Washington's army. They made New York their main political and military base of operations in North America, holding it until November 1783. The city became the destination for Loyalist refugees, and a focal point of Washington's intelligence network.
The British also took New Jersey, pushing the Continental Army into Pennsylvania. In a surprise attack in late December 1776 Washington crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey and defeated Hessian and British armies at Trenton and Princeton, thereby regaining control of most of New Jersey. The victories gave an important boost to Patriots at a time when morale was flagging, and have become iconic events of the war.
In 1777, as part of a grand strategy to end the war, the British sent an invasion force from Canada to seal off New England, which the British perceived as the primary source of agitators. In a major case of mis-coordination, the British army in New York City went to Philadelphia which it captured from Washington. The invasion army under Burgoyne waited in vain for reinforcements from New York, and became trapped in northern New York state. It surrendered after the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777. From early October 1777 until November 15 a pivotal siege at Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania distracted British troops and allowed Washington time to preserve the Continental Army by safely leading his troops to harsh winter quarters at Valley Forge.
American alliances after 1778
Further information: France in the American Revolutionary War and Spain in the American Revolutionary War
The capture of a British army at Saratoga encouraged the French to formally enter the war in support of Congress, as Benjamin Franklin negotiated a permanent military alliance in early 1778, significantly becoming the first country to officially recognize the Declaration of Independence. On February 6, 1778, a Treaty of Amity and Commerce and a Treaty of Alliance were signed between the United States and France. William Pitt spoke out in parliament urging Britain to make peace in America, and unite with America against France, while other British politicians who had previously sympathised with colonial grievances now turned against the American rebels for allying with Britain's international rival and enemy.
Later Spain (in 1779) and the Dutch (1780) became allies of the French, leaving the British Empire to fight a global war alone without major allies, and requiring it to slip through a combined blockade of the Atlantic. The American theater thus became only one front in Britain's war. The British were forced to withdraw troops from continental America to reinforce the valuable sugar-producing Caribbean colonies, which were considered more important.
Because of the alliance with France and the deteriorating military situation, Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander, evacuated Philadelphia to reinforce New York City. General Washington attempted to intercept the retreating column, resulting in the Battle of Monmouth Court House, the last major battle fought in the north. After an inconclusive engagement, the British successfully retreated to New York City. The northern war subsequently became a stalemate, as the focus of attention shifted to the smaller southern theater.
Hessian troops hired out to the British by their German sovereigns
The British move South, 1778–1783
Further information: Southern theater of the American Revolutionary War and Naval operations in the American Revolutionary War
The British strategy in America now concentrated on a campaign in the southern states. With fewer regular troops at their disposal, the British commanders saw the "southern strategy" as a more viable plan, as the south was perceived as being more strongly Loyalist, with a large population of recent immigrants as well as large numbers of slaves who might be captured or run away to join the British.
Beginning in late December 1778, the British captured Savannah and controlled the Georgiacoastline. In 1780 they launched a fresh invasion and took Charleston as well. A significant victory at the Battle of Camden meant that royal forces soon controlled most of Georgia and South Carolina. The British set up a network of forts inland, hoping the Loyalists would rally to the flag.
Not enough Loyalists turned out, however, and the British had to fight their way north into North Carolina and Virginia, with a severely weakened army. Behind them much of the territory they had already captured dissolved into a chaotic guerrilla war, fought predominantly between bands of Loyalist and American militia, which negated many of the gains the British had previously made.
Surrender at Yorktown (1781)
Main article: Siege of Yorktown
The siege of Yorktown ended with the surrender of a second British army, marking effective British defeat.
The British army under Cornwallis marched to Yorktown, Virginia where they expected to be rescued by a British fleet. The fleet showed up but so did a larger French fleet, so the British fleet after the Battle of the Chesapeake returned to New York for reinforcements, leaving Cornwallis trapped. In October 1781 under a combined siege by the French and Continental armies under Washington, the British surrendered their second invading army of the war.
The end of the war
Historians continue to debate whether the odds for American victory were long or short. John E. Ferling says the odds were so long that the American victory was "Almost A Miracle." On the other hand, Joseph Ellis says the odds favored the Americans, and asks whether there ever was any realistic chance for the British to win. He argues that this opportunity came only once, in the summer of 1776 and the British failed that test. Admiral Howe and his brother General Howe, "missed several opportunities to destroy the Continental Army....Chance, luck, and even the vagaries of the weather played crucial roles." Ellis's point is that the strategic and tactical decisions of the Howes were fatally flawed because they underestimated the challenges posed by the Patriots. Ellis concludes that once the Howe brothers failed, the opportunity for a British victory "would never come again."
Support for the conflict had never been strong in Britain, where many sympathized with the rebels, but now it reached a new low. Although King George III personally wanted to fight on, his supporters lost control of Parliament, and no further major land offensives were launched in the American Theater.
Washington could not know that after Yorktown the British would not reopen hostilities. They still had 26,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston and Savannah, together with a powerful fleet. The French army and navy departed, so the Americans were on their own in 1782–83. The treasury was empty, and the unpaid soldiers were growing restive, almost to the point of mutiny or possiblecoup d'état. The unrest among officers of the Newburgh Conspiracy was personally dispelled by Washington in 1783, and Congress subsequently created the promise of a five years bonus for all officers.
Main article: Treaty of Paris (1783)
During negotiations in Paris, the American delegation discovered that France would support independence, but no territorial gains. The new nation would be confined to the area east of the Appalachian Mountains. The American delegation opened direct secret negotiations with London, cutting the French out. British Prime Minister Lord Shelburne was in full charge of the British negotiations. He now saw a chance make the United States a valuable economic partner. The U.S. obtained all the land east of the Mississippi River, south of Canada, and north of Florida. It gained fishing rights off Canadian coasts, and agreed to allow British merchants and Loyalists to try to recover their property. It was a highly favorable treaty for the United States, and deliberately so from the British point of view. Prime Minister Shelburne foresaw highly profitable two-way trade between Britain and the rapidly growing United States, as indeed came to pass. Since the blockade was lifted and the old imperial restrictions were gone, American merchants were free to trade with any nation anywhere in the world, and their businesses flourished.
The British largely abandoned the Indian allies living in the new nation. They were not a party to this treaty and did not recognize it until they were defeated militarily by the United States. However, the British did promise to support the Indians. They sold them munitions and maintained forts in American territory until the Jay Treaty of 1795.
Impact on Britain
Losing the war and the 13 colonies was a shock to Britain. The war revealed the limitations of Britain'sfiscal-military state when it discovered it suddenly faced powerful enemies, with no allies, and dependent on extended and vulnerable transatlantic lines of communication. The defeat heightened dissension and escalated political antagonism to the King's ministers. Inside parliament, the primary concern changed from fears of an over-mighty monarch to the issues of representation, parliamentary reform, and government retrenchment. Reformers sought to destroy what they saw as widespread institutional corruption.
The result was a powerful crisis, 1776–1783. The peace in 1783 left France financially prostrate, while the British economy boomed thanks to the return of American business. The crisis ended after 1784 thanks to the King's shrewdness in outwitting Charles James Fox (the leader of the Fox-North Coalition), and renewed confidence in the system engendered by the leadership of the new Prime Minister, William Pitt. Historians conclude that loss of the American colonies enabled Britain to deal with the French Revolution with more unity and better organization than would otherwise have been the case. Britain turned towards Asia, the Pacific and later Africa with subsequent exploration leading to the rise of the Second British Empire.
Britain's war against the Americans, French and Spanish cost about £100 million. The Treasury borrowed 40% of the money it needed. Heavy spending brought France to the verge of bankruptcy and revolution, while the British had relatively little difficulty financing their war, keeping their suppliers and soldiers paid, and hiring tens of thousands of German soldiers.
Britain had a sophisticated financial system based on the wealth of thousands of landowners, who supported the government, together with banks and financiers in London. The efficient British tax system collected about 12 percent of the GDP in taxes during the 1770s.
In sharp contrast, Congress and the American states had no end of difficulty financing the war. In 1775 there was at most 12 million dollars in gold in the colonies, not nearly enough to cover current transactions, let alone finance a major war. The British made the situation much worse by imposing a tight blockade on every American port, which cut off almost all imports and exports. One partial solution was to rely on volunteer support from militiamen, and donations from patriotic citizens.
Another was to delay actual payments, pay soldiers and suppliers in depreciated currency, and promise it would be made good after the war. Indeed, in 1783 the soldiers and officers were given land grants to cover the wages they had earned but had not been paid during the war. Not until 1781, whenRobert Morris was named Superintendent of Finance of the United States, did the national government have a strong leader in financial matters.
Morris used a French loan in 1782 to set up the private Bank of North America to finance the war. Seeking greater efficiency, Morris reduced the civil list, saved money by using competitive bidding for contracts, tightened accounting procedures, and demanded the national government's full share of money and supplies from the confederated states.
Congress used four main methods to cover the cost of the war, which cost about 66 million dollars in specie (gold and silver). Congress made two issues of paper money, in 1775–1780, and in 1780–81. The first issue amounted to 242 million dollars. This paper money would supposedly be redeemed for state taxes, but the holders were eventually paid off in 1791 at the rate of one cent on the dollar. By 1780, the paper money was "not worth a Continental", as people said.
The skyrocketing inflation was a hardship on the few people who had fixed incomes—but 90 percent of the people were farmers, and were not directly affected by that inflation. Debtors benefited by paying off their debts with depreciated paper.The greatest burden was borne by the soldiers of the Continental Army, whose wages—usually in arrears—declined in value every month, weakening their morale and adding to the hardships of their families.
Beginning in 1777, Congress repeatedly asked the states to provide money. But the states had no system of taxation either, and were little help. By 1780 Congress was making requisitions for specific supplies of corn, beef, pork and other necessities—an inefficient system that kept the army barely alive.
Starting in 1776, the Congress sought to raise money by loans from wealthy individuals, promising to redeem the bonds after the war. The bonds were in fact redeemed in 1791 at face value, but the scheme raised little money because Americans had little specie, and many of the rich merchants were supporters of the Crown. Starting in 1776, the French secretly supplied the Americans with money, gunpowder, and munitions in order to weaken its arch enemy, Great Britain. When France officially entered the war in 1778, the subsidies continued, and the French government, as well as bankers in Paris and Amsterdam loaned large sums to the American war effort. These loans were repaid in full in the 1790s.
Concluding the Revolution
Main articles: Philadelphia Convention and United States Bill of Rights
See also: Annapolis Convention (1786) and The Federalist Papers
Creating a "more perfect union" and guaranteeing rights
See also: Federalist Party, Annapolis Convention (1786) and United States Bill of Rights
After the war finally ended in 1783, there was a period of prosperity. The national government, still operating under the Articles of Confederation, was able to settle the issue of the western territories, which were ceded by the states to Congress. American settlers moved rapidly into those areas, with Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee becoming states in the 1790s.
However, the national government had no money to pay either the war debts owed to European nations and the private banks, or to pay Americans who had been given millions of dollars of promissory notes for supplies during the war. Nationalists, led by Washington, Alexander Hamilton and other veterans, feared that the new nation was too fragile to withstand an international war, or even internal revolts such as the Shays's Rebellion of 1786 in Massachusetts.
Calling themselves "Federalists," the nationalists convinced Congress to call the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. It adopted a new Constitution that provided for a much stronger federal government, including an effective executive in a check-and-balance system with the judiciary and legislature. After a fierce debate in the states over the nature of the proposed new government, the Constitution was ratified in 1788. The new government under President George Washington took office in New York in March 1789. As assurances to those who were cautious about federal power, amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing many of the inalienable rights that formed a foundation for the revolution were spearheaded in Congress by James Madison, and later ratified by the states in 1791.
Further information: United States public debt and Alexander Hamilton
The national debt after the American Revolution fell into three categories. The first was the $12 million owed to foreigners—mostly money borrowed from France. There was general agreement to pay the foreign debts at full value. The national government owed $40 million and state governments owed $25 million to Americans who had sold food, horses, and supplies to the revolutionary forces. There were also other debts that consisted of promissory notes issued during the Revolutionary War to soldiers, merchants, and farmers who accepted these payments on the premise that the new Constitution would create a government that would pay these debts eventually.
The war expenses of the individual states added up to $114 million compared to $37 million by the central government. In 1790, at the recommendation of first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, Congress combined the remaining state debts with the foreign and domestic debts into one national debt totaling $80 million. Everyone received face value for wartime certificates, so that the national honor would be sustained and the national credit established.
Ideology and factions
The population of the 13 Colonies was far from homogeneous, particularly in their political views and attitudes. Loyalties and allegiances varied widely not only within regions and communities, but also within families and sometimes shifted during the course of the Revolution.
Ideology behind the Revolution
Main articles: American Enlightenment, Liberalism in the United States and Republicanism in the United States
The ideological movement known as the American Enlightenment was a critical precursor to the American Revolution. Chief among the ideas of the American Enlightenment were the concepts of liberalism, republicanism and fear of corruption. Collectively, the acceptance of these concepts by a growing number of American colonists began to foster an intellectual environment which would lead to a new sense of political and social identity.
Natural rights and republicanism
Main articles: John Locke and Republicanism in the United States
This section may be unbalanced towards certain viewpoints.Please improve the article by adding information on neglected viewpoints, or discuss the issue on the talk page. (January 2013)
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In this c. 1772 portrait by John Singleton Copley, Samuel Adams points at the Massachusetts Charter, which he viewed as a constitution that protected the people's rights.
John Locke's (1632–1704) ideas on liberty greatly influenced the political thinking behind the revolution, especially through his indirect influence on English writers such as John Trenchard,Thomas Gordon, and Benjamin Hoadly, whose political ideas in turn had a strong influence on the American revolutionaries. Locke is often referred to as "the philosopher of the American Revolution", and is credited with leading Americans to the critical concepts of social contract, natural rights, and "born free and equal." Locke's Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689, were especially influential; Locke in turn was influenced by Protestanttheology. He argued that, as all humans were created equally free, governments needed the "consent of the governed." Both Lockean concepts were central to the United States Declaration of Independence, which deduced human equality, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" from the biblical belief in creation: "All men are created equal, ... they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." In late eighteenth-century America, belief in "equality by creation" and "rights by creation" was still widespread.
The Declaration also referred to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" as justification for the Americans' separation from the British monarchy. Most eighteenth-century Americans believed that nature, the entire universe, was God's creation. Therefore, he was "Nature's God." Everything, including man, was part of the "universal order of things", which began with God and was pervaded and directed by his providence. Accordingly, the signers of the Declaration professed their "firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence." And they appealed to "the Supreme Judge [God] for the rectitude of [their] intentions." Like most of his countrymen, George Washington was firmly convinced that he was an instrument of providence, to the benefit not only of the American people but of all of humanity.
The theory of the "social contract" influenced the belief among many of the Founders that among the "natural rights" of man was the right of the people to overthrow their leaders, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen. In terms of writing state and national constitutions, the Americans heavily used Montesquieu's analysis of the wisdom of the "balanced" British Constitution (mixed government).
A motivating force behind the revolution was the American embrace of a political ideology called "republicanism", which was dominant in the colonies by 1775, but of minor importance back in Great Britain. The republicanism was inspired by the "country party" in Great Britain, whose critique of British government emphasized that corruption was a terrible reality in Great Britain. Americans feared the corruption was crossing the Atlantic; the commitment of most Americans to republican values and to their rights, energized the revolution, as Britain was increasingly seen as hopelessly corrupt and hostile to American interests. Britain seemed to threaten the established liberties that Americans enjoyed. The greatest threat to liberty was depicted as corruption—not just in London but at home as well. The colonists associated it with luxury and, especially, inherited aristocracy, which they condemned.
The Founding Fathers were strong advocates of republican values, particularly Samuel Adams,Patrick Henry, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, which required men to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. Men had a civic duty to be prepared and willing to fight for the rights and liberties of their countrymen and countrywomen. John Adams, writing to Mercy Otis Warren in 1776, agreed with some classical Greek and Roman thinkers in that "Public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics." He continued:
There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superior to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society.
For women, "republican motherhood" became the ideal, exemplified by Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; the first duty of the republican woman was to instill republican values in her children and to avoid luxury and ostentation.
Fusing republicanism and liberalism
Thomas Paine's pamphletCommon Sense, published in 1776
While some republics had emerged throughout history, such as the Roman Republic of the ancient world, one based on liberal principles had never existed. Thomas Paine's best-seller pamphlet Common Sense appeared in January 1776, after the Revolution had started. It was widely distributed and loaned, and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the ideas of republicanism and liberalism together, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Great Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army.
Paine provided a new and widely accepted argument for independence, by advocating a complete break with history.Common Sense is oriented to the future in a way that compels the reader to make an immediate choice. It offered a solution for Americans disgusted and alarmed at the threat of tyranny.
Impact of Great Awakening
Main article: First Great Awakening
Dissenting (i.e. Protestant, non-Church of England) churches of the day were the "school ofdemocracy." President John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) wrote widely circulated sermons linking the American Revolution to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible. Throughout the colonies, dissenting Protestant ministers (Congregationalist, Baptist, andPresbyterian) preached Revolutionary themes in their sermons, while most Church of England clergymen preached loyalty to the king, the titular head of the state church. Religious motivation for fighting tyranny reached across socioeconomic lines to encompass rich and poor, men and women, frontiersmen and townsmen, farmers and merchants.
Historian Bernard Bailyn argues that the evangelicalism of the era challenged traditional notions of natural hierarchy by preaching that the Bible taught all men are equal, so that the true value of a man lies in his moral behavior, not his class. Kidd argues that religious disestablishment, belief in a God as the source of human rights, and shared convictions about sin, virtue, and divine providence worked together to unite rationalists and evangelicals and thus encouraged American defiance of the Empire, whereas Bailyn denied that religion played such a critical role. Alan Heimert argued, however, that New Light antiauthoritarianism was essential to the further democratization of colonial American society, and set the stage for a confrontation with British monarchical and aristocratic rule.
Class and psychology of the factions
Looking back, John Adams concluded in 1818:
The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people ... This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.
In terms of class, Loyalists tended to have longstanding social and economic connections to British merchants and government; for instance, prominent merchants in major port cities such as New York, Boston and Charleston tended to be Loyalists, as did men involved with the fur trade along the northern frontier. In addition, officials of colonial government and their staffs, those who had established positions and status to maintain, favored maintaining relations with Great Britain. They often were linked to British families in England by marriage as well.
By contrast, Patriots by number tended to be yeomen farmers, especially in the frontier areas of New York and the backcountry of Pennsylvania, Virginia and down the Appalachian mountains. They were craftsmen and small merchants. Leaders of both the Patriots and the Loyalists were men of educated, propertied classes. The Patriots included many prominent men of the planter class from Virginia and South Carolina, for instance, who became leaders during the Revolution, and formed the new government at the national and state levels.
To understand the opposing groups, historians have assessed evidence of their hearts and minds. In the mid-20th century, historian Leonard Woods Labaree identified eight characteristics of the Loyalists that made them essentially conservative; traits to those characteristic of the Patriots. Older and better established men, Loyalists tended to resist innovation. They thought resistance to the Crown—which they insisted was the only legitimate government—was morally wrong, while the Patriots thought morality was on their side.
Loyalists were alienated when the Patriots resorted to violence, such as burning houses and tarring and feathering. Loyalists wanted to take a centrist position and resisted the Patriots' demand to declare their opposition to the Crown. Many Loyalists, especially merchants in the port cities, had maintained strong and long-standing relations with Britain (often with business and family links to other parts of the British Empire).
Many Loyalists realized that independence was bound to come eventually, but they were fearful that revolution might lead to anarchy, tyranny or mob rule. In contrast, the prevailing attitude among Patriots, who made systematic efforts to use mob violence in a controlled manner, was a desire to seize the initiative. Labaree also wrote that Loyalists were pessimists who lacked the confidence in the future displayed by the Patriots.
Historians in the early 20th century, such as J. Franklin Jameson, examined the class composition of the Patriot cause, looking for evidence of a class war inside the revolution. In the last 50 years, historians have largely abandoned that interpretation, emphasizing instead the high level of ideological unity. Just as there were rich and poor Loyalists, the Patriots were a 'mixed lot', with the richer and better educated more likely to become officers in the Army.
Ideological demands always came first: the Patriots viewed independence as a means to gain freedom from British oppression and taxation and, above all, to rea